A train of thought, worth the ride….
Nestled against the softly shapened foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, is a bedroom community no longer so small. Grown from town to city, it barely retains its quaint character. Those who have been fortunate to be raised in such a place can keep the charm alive in the halls of their memory. A sweet mixture of home and community is what comes to mind.
When I think of Glendora, a series of sounds comes spilling forth:
Firstly, there are musical sounds. Glendora is rooted in music whether in the schools, the downtown district or the homes. Foremost in thought is our marching band playing “Scotland the Brave” with the bagpipes skirl leading the tune. Marching shoes are hitting the pavement marking time with crisp white drillteam gloves slapping palms and thighs in unison. Next, I recall Glendora High School’s orchestra playing an “A” at the tap of Mr. Norman’s baton on a metallic music stand. If I dig deeply enough, I can remember Charles Ross’s plucking of violin strings to tune young children’s instruments. When I used to walk the halls in high school, often, the harmonizing sounds of choir practice in session would showcase those beautiful voices…Indeed, music in school was prevalent.
Music was always a part of homelife. I hear my brother’s sax, his bass viol too, my other brother’s Ludwig drum set pounding the fury, and his Martin guitar gently strumming. I remember the lilt of my sister’s flute and my own violin practicing. Lucky was the occasion when our uncle would come to visit and perform on the organ just about anything on request. He thrilled us every single time. Never forgotten was my mom’s organ and piano playing in our house on weekend mornings. She played with verve and woke us up. I can still catch her rhythmic, clandestine “when nobody is looking” tap-dance in our kitchen and quite fondly, my father’s sweet whistle of tune while tending his roses or loading logs in our fireplace. He’d pull back the metal screen and shift the wood about. Once it began, the sputters and snaps would commence. As my mind ferrets the thoughts of sounds around home, I can hear the tinny sound of my beloved transistor radio and the blasting lyrics to “Oklahoma” coming from the downstairs’ bedroom record player console. Slipping into thought are the strains of Hendrix, Janis, Iron Butterfly, Dylan, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Safaris, Simon and Garfunkel, Glen Campbell and John Denver. Sounds from televised “Sing along With Mitch”, “The Lawrence WelkShow” and specials featuring that swoon worthy voice of the one and only Elvis.
You could say music was rampant in our Glendora household. Often, before a big family meal, a brother-sister duet of “Heart and Soul” would enliven the ivory keys of our family upright piano. When it came to meals together, there was plenty to talk about, too. If I try hard, those voices come to life for me. A sentimental thought emerges of the tiny, yet lively chirping of “Moonbeam” our canary, abashedly interjecting his opinion into the dinner table conversation most evenings. But, specific outdoor sounds are in the halls of my memory as well.
Taking a mental walk outside, I hear the mourning dove’s call in my backyard, a neighbor’s rooster heralding the break of day, a variety of birds chirping cheerfully as if in homage to the sunshine, the crows holding a rambunctious convention several times a year up in the trees, a woodpecker ardently at work, the unique baby-like wail of the local peacocks, and lest I forget, the questioning call of the lone owl who made our tall avocado tree his home. From my upstairs bedroom window, I detect the distant whinnying of the Armstrong’s stabled horse. Either outside or in, occasional planes fly high overhead humming their beelines; airport bound. A tuned ear appreciates these sensorial details, including the “every so often” sonic boom made from the jets clearing the sound barrier up near Edwards Airforce Base.
Inclusive of this audible menagerie is an infusion of yells with squeals that signaled the splashes of diving, running jumps on springing boards and belly-flops into our family pool. My brain hones in on the tick, tick, clicketing of the Rainbird sprinklers, the Santa Fe train’s wan whistle cry, and carefree siblings singing songs on the swings in our yard. I even remember the muffled giggles as we would literally sausage-roll ourselves down the verdant, grassy knoll up behind and northeast of our back porch veranda.
Imagining being in town, at Finkbiner Park, I hear the melody blaring from the ice cream man’s truck that used to canvass our neighborhoods, and come round to the playground. Walking along our suburban streets, I hear rock n roll bands practicing in their families’ garages, the clacketing of skateboards on sidewalks and at the skate park, the sound of jump ropes slapping the ground as feet hop and voices recite chants, the basketball slamming onto cement– then the dunking sound it makes, whooshing through the hoop. How clever was the repetitive flapping of playing cards placed inside the spokes of bicycles ridden up and down city blocks. All these sounds made Glendora not just a town, but a hometown.
Almost anywhere near the downtown village one could and still can hear at Christmastime, the pealing Christian Church bells. On Sundays, if walking about, the grand Methodist Church pipe organ can be heard uplifting hymns to Heaven, And, most days, the chimes ring from the Public Library tolling out the hour. A more subtle sound is the clear “dinging” of Bock’s Variety Store’s old-fashioned register bell. Carried on the wind are distanced shouts and cheers at the Little League baseball games held at Sandburg and Goddard. From in the village can be heard the crack of wooden bats hitting homers, and the softball crowds rousing support emanating from the Finkbiner Park stands. Amongst the minutiae of memory are the sounds of strollers’ squeaky wheels with babies babbling on board. Then there is the sound of strong winter gales blowing in the trees and through palm fronds. Happily remembered is the exultant vocalizing of the “Whoas” of passengers and riders in cars going down the “The Dip” on Sierra Madre Boulevard. From the eastern end of Glendora was heard the fireworks popping and crackling on the Fourth of July, and for some, the 4:00 Quitting Time horn blast at Monrovia Nursery.
Whether one was shopping, walking, roller-skating or riding around the various streets of Glendora, there was a plethora of sounds to now remember. I most certainly do! The thoughts fly past quickly. I recall the sound of water from a hose being sprayed onto cars and kids giggling in playfulness as they soap up the tires. I hear truckloads of carolers rolling through the neighborhoods at Christmas, singing on front lawns or from the truckbed. I can identify the squeaky opening sound of the ice-cream freezer door at Finkbiner’s Market, the clip-clop of horses’ hooves along Sierra Madre, the flapping in the breeze of the elementary schools’ USA flag and California’s flag. I hear their rope and metallic fastener clanging against the tall standing flagpole, and even the school buses’ engine rumble as it is idles and takes off with a load of excited students. My mind hears the spritely discourse or happy conversation downtown along Glendora Avenue. Memory fires up the sounds of different makes of cars and vehicles driving up Glendora Mountain Road, especially, a Diesel Engine Mercedes SEL, a 56 Chevy, a Volkswagen beetle and a Triumph roadster, for they belonged to family. I can think of the sounds of automobiles zooming down Glendora Mtn. Road, down Valley Center, and along Foothill. Sometimes the acceleration was quite obvious! Other times, usually at dusk, lone, territorial coyotes call after the speeding wheels as if to say- “Be careful! We are still here!”
Glendora was a splendid town in which to live. Her sounds invigorated, lulled, and inspired. I hope that the citizens living there today take the time to stop and have a listen, because Glendora’s sounds are testament to her beauty. Glendora is not just roads and buildings. It has been an on-going symphony of sounds for well over a hundred years. They describe a way of life. They reflect the people. The people of Glendora.
Julianne Cull (2019)
Autumn in Southern California is an unpredictable thing. Not only is it hard to know when it will finally “feel like Fall”, but when it will actually occur is also an uncertainty. Of course it will happen! We will all rejoice and sigh relief from the oppressive, baking sun we endured the long-drawn our summer. But, when it does indeed make its presence known, everything will seem all the better.
We have already had some precursory signs which both tantalize and frustrate. Obviously, one cannot fight the laws of the celestial heavens. Our sun is seen at a different angle in the sky now, and we are beginning to have shorter days. Thusly, the marine layer is creeping in at night from the coast and its fingered fog is reaching far inland, up into the northern desert nether lands, and burrowing deep into the valleys and Orange County. Overnight, the thermometer in Southern Cal is dipping into the 59s and low 60s, and if you are hunkered down in a cabin up at Big Bear or Arrowhead, you are on the brink of 32 degrees, with a chance of snow. But, none of this noted drop in temps is lasting too long. During the day, there has been a 20-30 degree rise. By 4 pm, it is not quite hot enough to warrant the air conditioning, but it is such that seeking shade and liquids are still priorities. Therefore, tis the season of dangling the proverbial “autumn is approaching” carrot over our heads.
I for one cannot wait to open my front door one morning, and smell that fall has indeed come home. The air will feel wetter, heavier and have a fresh scent to it. Everything will be drenched in deeper colors and a portending mood of promise will linger all around. Even the cement may have a hint of scent of pre-sunrise precipitation, This immediately excites something within me. It is like a trigger. I will soon be reaching for an umbrella and scarf; and none too soon!
When on my walks I first spot that first leaf turned red, or orange, or yellow, I will know Autumn is upon us. So far, nothing. It is just past the first week in October. Patience is important, yet, I know it likely will arrive as late as the last week of the month. Typically, my children would have to wear sweaters or jackets to go “Trick or Treating” on Halloween. There are rare occasions though, when even by Halloween, Autumn is still in the wings. I can remember back to childhood having to tug along my pillowcase jammed with a candy trove, breathing steamy breath through my dime store mask. Eventually, I’d give up anonymity, and push it on top of my head in order to breathe freely and cool off a bit. Having this memory, I know full well that just because September 21st is the autumnal equinox, doesn’t mean immediate glory days.
And how glorious the months of Autumn can be! Once here, we revel in trees ablaze in reds, golds, tangerines, even deep purples. In California, the nurserymen are much to be credited for finding and planting species that do have showy fall color, and are able to withstand the extremes of blistering summer heat. In decades past, far underground have flowed waters that today’s trees if mature enough, can still tap into for resiliency. When Fall has finally stepped up to the stage, you can discover this plethora of different types of trees that will indeed display color galore. I am grateful to all the landscape architects who have designed with a rich palette in mind, for it brings a vibrancy to our environs that is nothing short of spirited. Having green and lush most of the year is definitely soothing, but, also having a demonstrative Fall botanical fanfare for all to enjoy is quite special, if not invigorating.
I love the Fall for the crisp in the air, the bite of an apple and in the brisk of the wind. Seeing that first swirl of autumn leaves evokes cozy thoughts and spurs on promise. It’s the same effect you get when you style a toddler’s lock of hair and as the brush pulls away, the hair bounces enthusiastically into an expressive curl. Even the first fireplaces put to the task, send out a plume of good things to come. Where there is wood burning there is a hearth, and where there is a hearth, there is a home and where there is a home, there is much to be appreciated.
Sitting near the fireplace, for the first time in Autumn, every sense is heightened and brilliantly noted. That smoky scent, the flush over face and hands awash in warmth, one cannot help but feel entranced by the sporadic snapping percussion of spark or the “hushed” glowing of ember. Immediately, this scenario calls for one of several engagements. There, before the hearth, the choice can be made. Either engage in quiet pondering, read an intriguing book or hum a heartfelt tune. Maybe knitting a secret present or whittling a small token from wood are past times of preference. Not everything must adhere to modernity. Perhaps, a sincere conversation or an impromptu tale to be told may fit the bill and savor the experience. Better still, is there a harmonica in your pocket? A dulcimer in the corner? A fiddle upon a hook? A recorder on a shelf? How about a banjo by the woodbox? Any of these instruments put to fine use on the brink of the moment is worthy of performance, remembrance and gratitude. All are fitting ways to rein-in long desired Autumn.
This is what the season of Autumn does, I believe. It brings us back to home, back to the fold. It focuses us near to the most meaningful part of our lives; our family. Even if your hearth is far away from loved ones, just coming in out of the cold, settling down by the fire, and kindling the thoughts of good things either gone by or good things yet to come, is invaluable. It could be this is why the seasons are the way they are. On the third of four seasons, we witness a final profusion of color. Its a last testament to what life can and maybe has been. The celebration and acceptance of change, the gusting of wind with coil and spin, and temperatures calling for shelter all hone us in like the shine on a sickle. We are honed in to home. To hearth. To heart. To Family. To dreamscape and imagination. To prayer and resolve. To praise and guidance. To warmth and peace. To safety.
Is it any wonder that so many of us residing in Southern California love the Fall time of year? It would seem Fall itself is magical. There may be an “Old Man Winter” waiting up in the canyons, ready to take over in a blanket of frost and white. But, in Autumn, we have “Wise Man Wizard”. with the sweep of his invisible wand, he summons moisture and rain. Then, he flicks it again to stir- up the winds. With that mysterious touch, he commands the temperatures to fall, and the leaves to grandstand their dramatic hues. Then, oh so subtly, he gently twirls his wand, capturing crisped leaves in his design to be noticed. Our eyebrows raise. Our footsteps pause, our heads turn to listen, and our heartbeats do a mini bellyflop from within. We know its here. Autumn has come!
There, at home, is the cinnamon in the applesauce on the stove, and the pumpkin bread cooling from the oven. A log just softly cracked in two in the fireplace, and the kitten opens one eye, spots it, shuts his lid again, and goes back to his undercurrent, slumbering purr. There’s the door, the latch is lifting….another pair of boots has come home.
A while ago, a relative of mine, posted something that caught my attention on social media. It was a very fine photograph of a VERY fine lady she and I both have loved our entire lives. Our grandma. Seeing that photograph got my synapses firing. I clearly remember when and how that picture was taken. My grandmother had come to visit me. She was with her only son, my uncle. He snapped a shot of the two of us sitting on my bed with my harp behind us. Grandma had come to hear me play my Troubadour Lyon & Healy harp. I remember absolutely nothing in particular about this “command performance”, but I do recall the walk with her afterward. I lived in a beach city at the time, and it was fitting that she came to see me there, especially since she is the one person who cemented my love of oceanside living.
While on our deliberate and visually fulfilling constitutional, my grandmother chatted about this and that…the trees, the flowers, the baby strollers, the birds we could hear over the din of cars on a nearby main boulevard. As I listened, I drifted off at times, to snatch bits of thought I kept in the ‘hallways of my memory’, always being easily available to ponder and enjoy. My uncle walked along with us, and eventually we wanted to reach a landmark diner to have a delicious meal. Grandma was in her mid-eighties but, didn’t really seem to be. She stood and walked straight. Her upright stance was as demonstrative as her upright attitude. She exuded quiet confidence, and could flatten a naysayer in their tracks within a matter of a phrase. It wasn’t malicious, just setting the record right, that’s all. We all knew that. Thus, our conversation was often punctuated with these characteristic pieces of wisdom. Oh, if only I could hear her say more….For now, it’s those remembrances waiting in the wings of my mind that will have to suffice.
How sweet those hallways of thought can be, with her in them! Most of my memories of Grandma center around her darling duplex home in Southern California. It looked just like a bungalow with a sloping wide A- line roof. It had front criss-cross paned windows bedecked underneath with cheery window boxes spilling forth her favorite, red geraniums. Her home also had prolific, lush front and inside gardens that most certainly were prize-worthy. Her house was painted a soft, deep tan; the hue enriched by a tad more brown tone, than a yellowy tone. This was such a pretty color that made a perfect backdrop to all of the foliage and flora on display. Her small plot of lawn was continuously vibrant green. It was a rich color that beckoned you as a child to lie down on it and feel the coolness below your skin. This natural “carpet” brought soothing relief on even the hottest of days. Bordering the grass area were plantings that brought delighted smiles to anyone who took the time to inspect. My favorite plant was the Fuchsia, or the “ballerina bush” as I would childishly call it. Hers had vivid purple and magenta flowers that danced in the breeze like ballet gowns swishing across a stage. She had several species of Azaleas, and they yielded a feathery, almost gossamer-like accent of pinks and lavender. Tantalizing to the eye, for sure was this beautiful bounty out in front, but the magic continued up the walkway and back to her inner side-yard oasis.
In my grandmother’s inside garden, were serious plants that seemed to command respect due to their sheer size and vigorous presence. Two of these were the trumpet vine and the honeysuckle vine. They had been borne from her gardening enterprises; from cuttings dipped in Root-tone F to the magnificent adult climbers on fence and post that they were! She loved her vines and would let us taste the honeysuckle from the blooms, which made us feel quite cavalier! There were several massive vines at work, having set their tendrils out in quest for further heights and expanse. The trumpet vine was really one for fascination. I never saw it devoid of a profusion of flower. They would hang down almost as if they were a string of musical notes in a composition. Though all the names of her vines escape me, I am positive she had flowering shrubs as well.
At one’s shoulder-level, I recall the showy camellias. There were at least three varieties, some double petaled, even! I could never mistake the signature scents of the lower-thriving gardenia and her night-blooming jasmine. She had heliotrope and hydrangea, spires of goldenrod and giant, statuesque gladiolas. If that weren’t enough, bordering her flower beds were lobelia and begonia. It was such a thickly endowed garden, that there was just enough room for her glass picnic table with wrought iron matching chairs. Grandma loved serving us lunch out on the patio, amidst all the greenery, fragrance and dazzling color.
To sit at a transparent glass table impressed us as children. We could watch our feet dangle and play footsie with one another. Grandma always thoughtfully set the table in style. Placemats were a must, and very often they were bright, happy colors and either made of woven cotton or straw! The napkins came with napkin rlngs of course, and our grandmother loved her colored glass! Thus, our goblets were made of glass and usually a translucent color in which to visually enjoy her homemade pink lemonade. Sometimes, we might drink out of her equally festive 1950s style colored-aluminum tumblers. Teal, magenta, red-orange, chartreuse and yellow….a feast for the eyes every gulp of the way! The “pieces de resistance” were the unique sipping straw stirrers. The tippy top of them had a tiny round ball with a hole in it for a mouth piece to sip on. It was lavender colored and infused with silvery speckles,. The ball shaped mouth piece was connected to a thin silver metal straw, which joined at the bottom to a matching lavender/silver speckled and slightly pointed well of a spoon. We thought this was the best invention next to our dad’s Osterizer! We each had our own sipper straw spoon and we probably spent more time stirring and giggling and sipping and bubbling than she probably would have liked. But what are summer visits at Grandma’s in her beach cottage garden for? Being silly and carefree of course!
Further back in our grandmother’s inner sanctum was a narrow walkway flanked by her clothesline. That’s where our bathing suits and damp towels would end up. We would also line-up our pails filled with claimed seashells and starfishes, for surveying and comparison, later. We would walk all the way to the back gate. This led out to where Grandma’s garage and tiny plot of green alongside it opened up into her back alley. Now, here, quite nonchalantly placed, so as not to cause too much attention, was the prize of all prizes.
Her fine horticultural specimen sat indiscriminately all year long. Then, once a year, this jewel of a plant would have its moment of glory. In the night, well past sundown, Grandma would take us in our pajamas, robes and slippers out to see her secret. She would tell my brother to hold the flashlight to mark our path as it was quite dark. We would follow single file, in stealth-like, soft footsteps. Once we were exactly there, stooping down in hushed, fragile patience, she would shine the light on her epiphyllum oxypetalum; the “Queen of the Night” flower! As if worshipping the nocturnal luminescence, it would fully open its bloom to the moon. All white itself, and surrounded by blushed at the base slender, pronged petal adornments; it had lacy stamens and pistils which seemed to float upward from inside the blossom. Her petals appeared to glow as they spread wide with frilled edge…a most dramatic exhibition! The “oohs” and the “ahhhhhs” could not be kept at bay. Our eyes stared in wonderment, and I absolutely know this was the solidifying factor in all our lives that made us become stewards of the Plant Kingdom. Having us partake in this annual event speaks volumes as to the kind of person our Grandma was.
Looking back at that picture posted on social media, I reminisce fondly. My Grandma and I were sitting in tandem. shoulder to shoulder on my bed, with my harp prominently in the background. You see, I believe my grandmother brought many splendid things into my life. She was the one who played her piano and accompanied my violin playing. She once walked me to a neighbor’s house who was a member of the Philharmonic to have him hear me play, (even though he was gone that day). Never fear, she let me read books for children about Beethoven and taught me to play along with her, Mozart’s “Minuet in G”. This attentive lady believed in me, and I believed in her.
Beyond that, there is something even more. Philosophical, really. Grandma’s eyes that were caught so well in that photograph ~~ say it all. Her soul behind her eyes was a Knowing Soul. She knew life was music. It could even be a symphony! Not only was music the expression of tune and rhythm, but, it was an essence we could all “see” if we just looked hard enough. Music is in the curling “melody” of growing vine, the “toned” fragrance of flower, the “dancing” curve and shape of leaf and patterned petals. Music is not reserved for just our ears. Our eyes can “see” Music, too. This is what I learned from my precious, sweet Grandma. This is what upon occasion, brings little ‘dewdrops’ to my own eyelashes; when I see the gentle beat of a butterfly wing, a hummingbird’s blur, or a medallion-shaped silver dollar Eucalyptus leaf twitching in the breeze. Thank you Grandma May. I love you.
First written February 20, 2018.
🏔🏔🏔🏔About those bobsleds!🏔🏔🏔🏔
If you are a true Californian, your favorite Disneyland Ride of all time is the Matterhorn! It seems everyone enjoys the same special details about this childhood thrill ride. The morning your parents would surprise you and say “We’re going to Disneyland!” was a day that meant you were going to get to zip along in a bobsled, yelling your lungs-out in wild-child fashion! And that was something to go nearly berserk just thinking about!
Once your father and mother had settled you down to a dull roar, then you had dressed, eaten a wholesome breakfast and piled along with your siblings into the family car. You would practically salivate in the back seat of the station wagon, in anticipation of spotting the top of the snowy peak from as far as the 5 freeway as you approached Anaheim. It was always the first ride you would religiously pay homage to and then go on upon entrance into the park. (Sometimes you might bolster up initially by eating a treat at the Sunkist Cafe first, then go.)
Disneyland wouldn’t be Disneyland without the Matterhorn. It is an exact replica of the mountain, and hikers gain permission to come into the park, pitons in tow, to scale the beloved landmark. You can watch the mountaineers strategically attain their quest as you mill about down on the ground taking in the park experience. Being a hopeful bobsled rider, as you approach the rollercoaster on foot you detect blood-curdling screams emanating outward, signaling imminent excitement! The Matterhorn Ride runs four-seater bobsleds threading through her inner cavities on mini cogwheel-train-like tracks. As you get closer to the source of action, you will see the two lines of people, winding around the right and left side of the mountain. This usually means it will be an hour and a half wait before actually getting onto the ride. But, you know in your heart it is well- worth your patience. At the ride’s entrance and even piped acoustically all around the perimeter, is Alpine accordion music. It creates a lively, happy welcome that keeps conversation jovial and toes tapping.
Once you have reached the bobsled station, you’ll notice everything is decorated with painted flowers and Chalet-style wood-cut fencing canopied by rooftop overhang details. You’ll even spot the Swiss, German, Austrian, Italian, French and Liechtenstein’s “Coat of Arms”, displayed along the walk to keep you visually busy. You will hear songs being sung with the accordions playing the melodies and it’s all very rousing and cheerful. The view upwards, is of bobsledders gliding along, weaving in and out of the alp, engaged in quite a stimulating adventure! With each minute closer, one’s increasing anticipation sizzles! Grown adults can be caught jumping for joy in sheer elation!
Stepping into your Bobsled brings a gusto-infused greeting from attendants wearing alpine design embroidered shirts, suspenders and lederhosen. The look is finished with feather-capped hats. So cute! They give you a serious peer right into your eyes, then commence to strap and buckle you in, and dutifully remind you to keep your hands inside the bobsled!
Sitting there, in your soon to be swift contraption, you wait your turn to connect to the running track. You are aware there’s a pit in your stomach and think such things as “Will it be as fast and scary as I remember it?” “Do they still have that ferocious, abominable snowman inside giving its monster roar?” Then, suddenly—voila! Next thing you know, you hear the clicking of the track and you are on your way. A blast of cold air whooshes past you and yes—the ride still “flies” at lightning speed! It whips the bobsled around at 45 degree angled turns and the track tips the bobsled on one side to about 35-40 degrees making you think you’ll get thrown out! In some places the track splashes down into pools of water and you even feel the spray from the waterfalls cascading alongside you! This is an added refreshment that is like plopping a cherry on top of an already delectable ice cream sundae! The ride is loud, fast and exhilarating in every way. When it finally comes to its abrupt end, one always says the same thing: “Again, again, let’s ride it again!”
The Matterhorn is a beacon of promised zest. Nighttime rides are just as much fun. On the clock, at 9 pm, Tinkerbell flies across the sky from the Matterhorn summit to Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. With the magic touch of her wand, the fireworks begin, much to the thrill of all the people below. Traditionally, spectators look back to the Mount that has brought them abounding emotion and they cannot help but feel alive and well at the culmination of such a grand day….
Okay, I get it. We are in a warming funk. It may only last another thirty years, but, it is a funk. How I long for the days of old…when I was a “Sea n Ski” gal with my white sunscreen nose, floppy sunhat, rubber flip flop thongs (we wore them on our feet, folks), my ruffly bikini and my straw and wooden beaded beach basket tote! That was living in style! My little sidekick sister sported a matching but different color handmade corduroy beach cape with yarn ball trim and silver fancy button hooks. We also had those nifty little plastic eyeball protectors that you’d set atop the bridge of your nose as you lay down to soak up the sun and build that “brown as a berry” suntan. Suntanning was serious business to the Real McCoys that we were: the Little Surfer Girls of Corona Del Mar…The only preliminary was jumping into our big brother’s forest green bomb ’56 Chevy Sedan, and flying down the 57 with “Wipeout”, “The Monster Mash” and “Witchy Woman” blaring out of the radio
This is what all children from the San Gabriel Valley would do multiple times, week after week, all summer long. And our summers were the full three months, baby! At times, the beach was often a different deal compared to where our homes were. We would leave in the mid-morning when the sun was beginning to bake at 80 degrees, only to find the the beach’s marine layer was lingering around until at least noon. That meant double doses of suntan lotion,…for everyone… had learned the cloud refractive process can redden fair skin to a ripe red lobster hue if you dare to lay under cloudy beach skies in the summer. But that was okay, because mostly I remember many carefree days playing on the shore with a cool breeze coming off the waves. It was delightful conditions such as these that borne the creative, gleeful escapades with my little sister and brothers.
We loved doing so many things together, such as beach combing for sand dollars, seashells that looked pretty, and digging for sand crabs as the tide would recede. We loved hopping over the mounds of seaweed being attacked by the fiendish little flies that loved buzzing all over them. As insouciant children can only do, we cheerfully chased the waves and would stop to dig our toes into the wet sand; for this always tickled relentlessly as the water would pull away. These were simple rituals we must do each visit. Every time, we walked the length of the beach with the intention of getting to the jetty. There we would search for starfishes and bring one home in a pail. Climbing over the rocks would be rough and very hard on our toes, but by the end of summer, we were in condition and our feet had toughened from the practice. Perhaps the most memorable summer was the one when we staked our claim at the summit of Pirates’ Cove. We discovered above the cave, if we clambered up to the very top, nearest the edge where the waves would dramatically perform their sea-song of crash and spray, was a strongly anchored pole. We painted onto an old white cloth our own flag emblem, and tied it to the pole as if this beach, cove and cave were our very own. It was OUR mystery to know; OUR realm to rule.
These summers of youth are a blessed memory. I know my siblings and I have heartfelt remembrances of our sweet Grandmother who taught us to love the beach. She is the one who took us literally into the waves as she herself would gather-up her pedal pushers or ruck-up her skirt and tie it around her waist so she herself could wade through the ocean along the shore. She encouraged us to use our eyes and look into the water, to find things, imagine things, to adore and respect the sea. Because of her, I learned to brave the waves, and body surf. She taught us to be strong and smart and to be one with the water. My little sister and I would pretend we were mermaids while we dove and flipped and frolicked as any fabled sea-nymph would do. The ocean was a multi-faceted playground and our affinity for this gifted place was always a huge part of our childhood summers.
The beach-goers of today have a far different experience. It is no longer a spontaneous excursion. Instead, it is a destination often requiring parking reservations. Too often the crowd is indifferent to the beautiful tableau before them. Instead of consideration of others’ and their space, disregard and flagrant selfishness is often made manifest. It is typical for there to be loud, overbearing conversations, blaring music, and unsupervised little ones running amuck kicking sand everywhere and onto everyone. The lack of clean-up is appalling, too. Trash just left indelibly leaves an ugly testament to modern-day indifference. Where is the respect for our planet? Where is the social conscience? Thank goodness not all beachgoers behave in this manner.
How I miss those innocent, oblivious summer days on the beach. My transistor radio softly played “Oh, Sweet Pea come on and dance with me”, while my “sunbathing” Barbie Doll greeted her boyfriend Ken who “drove up” alongside her in his snazzy convertible. He’d “hop-out” to join her in her fun…I even miss my own casual gawking at the surfers and lifeguards, and reading on my stomach so I could scope out the rest of the male population from behind my sunglasses. When I think of all those beach days, I recall delicious picnics comprising tuna fish sandwiches, grapes, lemonade, Fresca or Squirt, brownies and Ruffles Potato Chips. Lively conversation and giggles always accompanied such a meal. The beach was a place where imagination, dreams and giggles were allowed free-reign. No wonder the fondness for such a place kindles strong in my soul. The magic of childhood is a blessed thing to experience in such an unfettered way.
When the sun began to go down, the whole ambience of the place would change. Those beach goers remaining, were hoping to see that sacred orange ball dip into the horizon. They always sat in muted, pensive, still repose. Everyone was in their own thinking world. A hush would fall over the total beach almost as if it were a sanctuary of some sort~a special world requiring honor and afterthought. All sea worshippers would hear the symphony of rhythm persevere; thunderously rolling white-capped waves; pounding evermore.
Childhood summers to me are not memories of the broiling asphalt blacktop and car outdoor thermometers registering 115 F. degrees. They are not the cranky drivers, nor the insanely inflated gasoline prices. Summer is not the watering lawn restrictions or the drying up of trees and shrubbery. Yes, we did have fires back then, but not as many, it would seem… I guess what I am trying to say is, summer meant worry-free times. We don’t have that anymore. I’d like to hope that the summers of yore will return once more.
Just when life seems to be fairly ho-hum, a snippet of one’s past zips by into view, sending you into an emotional tizzy. Such is as follows:
“Oh! That’s my car! My VW bug! 1974! It HAS to be! Nobody else thought to have Earl Sheib paint it an aquamarine-blue back in the day! It was one of a kind! Oh, my gosh, I have to follow this guy!”
Well, I had just exited my garage in a quick quest to purchase some potato bread. I love potato bread almost as much as I love egg bread…thus, when the whim came over me, I hopped into my Red Thrill and zipped out and down my driveway. Thankfully, out of sheer habit, I stopped at the sidewalk to press the garage door down to close. That’s when in my rearview mirror, the Blue Wonder put-puttered on by…
Is there anything so fun as a Volkswagen Beetle’s engine sound? It’s just plain “cute” sounding, although I suspect some other descriptors must be famously held in place because a large cross-section of society loves their Volkswagen Bugs. By the way, we are talking the original engines, not the newly revised, this last decade, engines. Uh uh. Not the same animal. Or insect.
Vintage VW owners tend to personify their idea of what the Volkswagen sound is to them. Almost any age person and gender might call it a sporty, spunky, “in yo face”, sweet, cool, funky, upbeat, humble, nostalgic or California-surfer-free-spirited-unfettered “athlete’s life-style”… sound. Certainly there’s even more! Obviously, this is because the era the Bugs took flight was the 60’s, just when Creativity was King.
Since the earlier decades up to now, VW owners have gotten involved. THEY “personify” their car’s sound by “fulfilling” the role. Thus, you might STILL see little old ladies wearing a sunhat and shades with hippie beads dangling from the mirror. Daisies might be spilling out from the front wing windows, too. One might see male drivers of all ages, wearing Hawaiian shirts, with their own set of sunglasses and, of course, donning scruffy, willy-nilly beards. But the aura doesn’t stop there.
It used to be: to have a Volkswagen; must have a rack on top. Though today, the racks seem to be used more for bicyclists, rather than the two surfboard minimum, considered “hip” and “with it” back then. Today, if you keep your eyes peeled, you might STILL catch VWs en route with Indian Bells tinkling and incense swirling in time to the rhythm of the put-put sound or the sitar strains emanating from the 8 track cassette player on the dash. You might also spot those owners who still love anything from the ’50s, so you’ll see pony tails and greased up waves in the profiles of these drivers. The point is, owning a Beetle is often a thematic experience.
Now, to love your car, is to drive your car. There is the group of owners who know the TRUEST joy of a VW Beetle, is not to hug the curvacious bends of the PCH, but instead, the whiplash mountain roads, where the Volkswagen automobile itself, was born. These exultant travelers are merry, a tad fierce and blazingly adventurous. They are the ones who can be seen tossing the map out their window in reckless, carefree abandon. They WILL follow the ROAD LESS-TRAVELED. This is how VWs became loved by all of America. They have put-putted over hill and dale across this widespread country; careening ’round the curvy switchbacks of elevated mountain peaks in Montana, to the leafy, lackadaisical swish of the Smokey Mountain Range in the South. As they do, they bring with them their owners’ own views on life.
It’s that driver’s spirit that has driven this fine bugger of a car all over Creation. The love of our planet and the fresh outdoors has lured the VW enthusiasts to motor their car right up to the ski lodge, rather than take the cogwheel train, or village shuttle. This is what “cool” Volkswagen owners do! Why be a passenger, when you can be a DRIVER? Even more fun, is the work involved shifting the gearshift or nailing your foot to the floor, as you try to eek out a few more mph from the buzzing little bug’s engine. Anyone who has driven a VW up in the altitudes, knows it takes sheer chutzpah to get that sucker up over steep inclines. Once you’ve made it– there is a moment of cheerful accolade, always involved with congratulating the adorable little contraption you love to covet so immensely.
And that’s the thing- the impetus for why this entire piece got started. I DO love to covet memories of my Volkswagen. After all, my ’74 aquamarine “Blue Bit of Magic” had a way of perking up my day. It felt uplifting to get into my car, turn the key, and hear her start up. If I must put gasoline in her tank, well, it was quite inexpensive. I knew I was always paying a third less than everyone else. It was my own kind of “elitism”. Once I was going, the wind wings in the front seat were the best! They were a natural air conditioner that I relied on way more often than I did the actual heat and air system. It was really fun to drive my car for a variety of reasons.
In retrospect, I think the put-put sound reminded me of the sound the roadsters make at Disneyland’s Autopia Autobahn Ride. Maybe, that’s what taps into our inner-child and makes so many of us love that sound! Hmm? Another point is the fact that when someone was driving a VWBeetle, you knew it. If you were in your house stirring the spaghetti sauce, you knew a V-Dub was driving by, because your ears would catch its signature half purr, half rumble and your brain would conjure up all kinds of ideas. If you were awaiting the return of someone using your own VW, then it was a lilting feeling to hear that car come into your driveway. In all these ways, my ’74 Volkswagen sounded happy to me: that is simply the crux of it.
That Volkswagen “Iridescent Blue Beetle” I drove, had quite a “life”. It all began when my brother brought home his own vintage VW that was a stick shift model from the early ’60s. I tried to learn to drive it and kind of failed miserably. My dad tried to teach me how to do all four steps at once, but this pea-brain just couldn’t handle it. After my younger brother accidentally drove my older brother’s car into the avocado grove, in reverse, my folks started to think about purchasing an automatic.
When I was truly in need of a car, and for me it was after my first year of college, my folks surprised me. They drew up an agreement to partially fund me with a $3,000 Automatic-Stick Volkswagen. I had to first work that summer to pay my half, which I did, gladly, and hence, I returned to school in the fall relying on four wheels rather than my Dr. Scholl sandals to get me around. A lot better!
“Beetle Bug” started off her independent life in the very “happening” coastal town of Malibu. The Native American Chumash name means “The Surf Sounds Loudly”, and boy, did my car know what the ocean call was. I was supposed to be living in Malibu earning a degree in Education! Well, I have to say, collegiate life in Malibu with my venturesome little car was really, REALLY “tough!” How hard it was to NOT drive down the hill from “Peppy-Tech University” to go and “study” up the highway at Coral Beach. Many a free afternoon was spent reading on the sand with the waves pounding their song, and my car parked within earshot, surveying it all.
Additionally, I recall how “frustrating” it was to have to incessantly drive my flock of friends down to Malibu Colony and check out the cute waiters at Beecher’s Cafe, while pretending to be engaged in a “Study Group”. Oh, sure👍, we were studying, alright. Still other times, the “poor” VW had to drive up through the canyons to take me to my community service credit locales. Often, her wheels zoomed us northward up the Pacific Coast Highway to Trancas, so we could accidentally “run into” surfers while researching the California coastline and its many inhabitants (ahem: habitats)…yes, very hard to do that “research”… Friends along for the ride, we would make trips to Zuma Beach or Paradise Cove and take in the “scenic” beauty. We saw surfers all the time, and sometimes movie stars. We knew which notables lived in which houses. All this was “fact-finding” material for this “academic” throng. To think of all the work involved, having to drive with best buds in tow, to Santa Monica, so we could look up information at the local library on Sixth Street. Oh, “the information” we gathered!
Further endeavors led us to Point Dume, or the inspiring overlook spot at Point Mugu. (Such “arduous” tasks to endure as a college student, utilizing the wheels of freedom! So much “responsibility”!) You get the idea. Those newly acquired set of radials burst open my world. It was sheer dazzle and dream. The experiences with friends were treasures, and the gorgeous scenery was unparalleled. When I think of these things, I gratefully think of my zippy, put-putting automobile. And maybe vice-versa?
Not wanting to belabor every detail of my car’s life, I can tell you “she” has been there for me in the best of times. I owned her 13 years. She wasn’t perfect. She needed an entire rebuild after I stupidly drove her into the ground. What can I say, I was a girl who didn’t know much about automobiles. It was a unique car, too. One experimental year, the fine engineers at Volkswagen decided to build a car that looked like a stick shift, pretended to work like a stick shift, but without the extra pedal. . In fact, this one of a kind “automatic shift” had a set of fuses underneath the glovebox that had one fuse which monitored the transmission. When parked, if it was removed (in a split second action–a quick easy), the car’s transmission would lock in place and make it veritably thief proof! This came in quite handy, I can tell you!
I had a good friend who enjoyed my vehicle to the hilt, would fiendishly make my car “flinch” while I was driving, simply by touching the gearshift ever so lightly. He would crack up every time. He also had a hilarious way of hanging on to the window bar that separated the wing window from the passenger window, by rolling the side window down, and pretending he was clinging onto it for dear life if I reached a maximum speed of sixty. Very funny are my memories connected with this particular “on the road” companion.
If we ever were on an outing making our way home from Ventura or Santa Barbara, and were taking the 101 inland route south, we’d have to tread up the “Great Incline”, or the “Conejo Grade” between Camarillo and Thousand Oaks. He would act as if thrusting his chest back and forth, while grunting in the process would help me “make my car” get enough “oomph” to reach past the maximum speed of 40 miles per hour!
Essentially, …the effort would begin at the bottom of the extremely steep 7% grade with an onset speed of 60; (if there weren’t other cars in the way). Our ascent was tenacious! Gradually, as we drove up the incline, the top speed would DECREASE steadily down to forty, after I had made it to the halfway point on the hill. With foot pedal pressed to the floor, I would hope and pray and pay homage to “Mercury the God of Flight”, while cracking up at my passenger’s protruding and flexing of his Alpha-Male chest! We would not lose any more speed before the summit was reached. It was actually an awful lot of excitement and drama which made for a most “far from boring” ride. Yes, that Beetle had nosed and trudged its way through many a taxing terrain.
This same car has been my “wanderlust traveler buddy”. She is the one who took me to a number of places that have filled my soul with all those memories I have alluded to. I can say that without her, I may never have known some wonderful things about our country and our earth, for that matter. With the “People’s Wagon” wheeling me to places unknown, life has been a richer palette for sure.
One of my earliest adventures was to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge. Overwhelming and almost other-worldly, it was. Massively huge, too. The engineering marvel is connected to the sea in an uncanny way. I only drove across, regrettably, though. I know the real magic lies well outside the window. To plant two feet on the bridge itself, beholding sheer panoramic view of the bay- now that is something yet to be experienced! Still, to drive across that immense engineering triumph was very inspiring.
Another excursion, when one of my brothers married for the first time, entailed driving my Beetle up to Idaho. Along the way, I learned that Nevada has a lot of repetitive desert space, with the best parts near its corners and borders. This was a terribly long time ago, thus, my observation may be outdated by now. I just remember one small plant cluster after another on caked, dry, dusty, flat land. I couldn’t wait to see what lay beyond…
Idaho was really a beautiful state. First, was seen golden farmland, acre upon acre of shimmering ripples brushed by the breeze. Then, came the mountains and forests; all a painter’s dream come come true! Destination: Sun Valley. My Blue Bugsy took me to my brother’s wedding and to meet his lovely, sweet bride. The cozy comfort of the chapel in aspen woods replete with natural beauty all around comes to mind. I recall footbridges over ponds, ice-skating rinks (I could not master), and the youthful promises of faith and love pledged heart to heart.
That trip was a gutsy, reckless one, which I took with a couple other siblings. They dared me to drive way faster than the speed limit when we were out in those wide open spaces. Well, sure, of course I did! Youth. Untamed and unchecked. Oy vey! To behave differently or to test the borders of obedience, these can become one’s mindset. The acting on a whim seems integral to being a Volkswagen Bug owner.
How fondly I remember, lest I ever forget, the 8:00 pm decision to “cruise” on up to Sequoia National Park and camp out overnight! My boyfriend and I threw blankets, canteens, an ice chest and a picnic basket into the backseat. Up we went, getting there well past midnight. It was the first time I had ever seen the giant redwoods. They loomed large and majestically out of the moon drenched snow. The Sequoias were tall pillars that had a way of putting one’s existence into humbled perspective. We pitched our tent right on the snow, and “roughed it” like the frontiersmen and pioneer women would have done. Parked nearby was my car “who” seemed to “watch over us” as we slept throughout the night.
Perhaps, most cherished of all, was when “Miss Wanderlust” drove me to my own wedding destination, in a high mountain terrain, up to a waterfall that cascaded not only water, but wishes. That adventure had many aspects–one of them of which was the fulfilling of dreams, and eventually, some were not. But, no regrets, ever. How could I regret experiencing my first snowfall, or hearing the crunch of snow under my Sorrel boots? How could I have not been overjoyed while discovering gem-like colorful pebbles in streams, or feeling what the hush of the quiet feels like when living in a sequestered canyon village? How could I not be amazed at driving through winding mountain highways to get to the next town, after circumventing whole mountain ranges and changing elevation? My V-Dub made possible cherished memories of hiking up to old silver mines, and hiking solo in the crisp morning air while picking wildflowers for my later in the day wedding bouquet. I could not have experienced all these treasured things, if my Beetle Bug hadn’t taken me all the way from shores of California to the mountain peaks of Colorado!
When I think of my courageous little car, I remember the joyful journeys we made together. Sometimes, my drives would be borne out of despondency, and just to get behind the wheel, have a good think and witness the world flash by was a therapeutic escapade. Escaping the doldrums, I would embark on adventure, my Bug and I. For you see, when you drive a Volkswagen, you are never really alone.
Years later, I transformed its original beige color to the personally chosen aquamarine blue. I loved that paint job! The color had a sparkle, as if it were an ocean jewel. It wasn’t long before my firstborn son’s blue eyes were gems to behold as well. He rode home from the hospital in that car. Best of all memories? Perhaps?
Even so, Beetle Bug and I drove to visit my grandma’s on many a weekend for tea and kibitzing, and once in awhile as far as San Diego to surprise my eldest brother- to see what he was painting lately, and what music he was performing. I prized these trips to locales afar, where my favorite persons lived. Isn’t that the real purpose of a vehicle, anyway? They are meant to take us to people and places that add layers upon layers of meaning to our story. Then, for the rest of one’s life, when you see that particular make of car you used to own, you are halted and suspended in memories dear. Huh. Is it you that owned the car, or did it own you?
Getaways, college, weddings, births, pivotal moments, sentimental bliss…these are brought to mind at even the flash of sight of one’s well- loved “V-dub”. Thus, that morning, as I idled frozen in thought at the end of my driveway, the “focal point” made a left turn down the nearest side street and I followed suit. He was being a typical VW driver. He was scooting along as if he were in the Indy 500, careening around street corners and driving with fearless ambition! I shifted gears and took flight after him. I kept hearing in my head: “I hope he gets stuck at a traffic signal, then I can pull up alongside him. Don’t get a speeding ticket! Watch for baby strollers or four-legged animal friends!”
Well, I managed to tail him for another four blocks, upon which I prayed he would make a right turn into a driveway to a gas-station. Yes! He did! And so did I. Luckily, there was an empty filling-up spot adjacent to his. I watched a very young man, probably in his middle twenties, get out of “his car/my car”, to which I proceeded to tell him my business.
“I’m so sorry to have been following you but, I must ask if your car is in fact, my car from long ago? It was an automatic stick.” He replied that yes his car is the same type. I excitedly said, “Well is it a ’74?” He quickly said “No, it, is a ’75.” My heart sank. “But, it’s the same unusual color I had custom painted back in the 80’s!” He replied, no, he was sorry. However, he did exclaim, “I love this car! It has a life of its own! It drives and drives and drives!” I countered with: “Don’t you just love those wing windows?” And he said, “I sure do!” I finished with, “Well, thanks for jarring my memory, because a sweet one it is. Enjoy your car!” That’s when he concluded our conversation with: “Oh, I will, I’m taking it up to Obispo to go camping under the pines by the sea.”…
Hmmm. Maybe, whom he bought it from was wrong about the year? Maybe, it really IS my Blue Wonder…?